Sunday, March 28, 2021

Women's History Month 2021: All Museums Provide Clues

I think one of the most important characteristics a researcher can have is to be curious. Not nosy curious but endlessly curious about all kinds of things. Genealogy involves the pursuit of all kinds of knowledge. It's sociology, geography, psychology, history, and so much more.

I love to hear researchers talk about the seemingly strange esoteric things they are interested in because it shows how creative they can be in researching what they love. They are asking and answering all sorts of questions to better understand our ancestor's lives.

Whether you visit a museum for fun or for research, it can be a wonderful place to learn new things and discover new-to-you aspects of history. 

Case in point. Italy. 

I love Italy. I love the art. I love the history at every turn. I love the architecture. And who doesn't like the food? 

(c) 2018 Gena Philibert-Ortega

Do I have family history roots in Italy? No. So going there has nothing to do with genealogy for me. 

One of my favorite museums is in Florence, The Accademie Gallery. You might know it as the place where the statue of David resides.

If you visit, make sure you look at the backside of the statue as well.(c) 2019 Gena Philibert-Ortega

My favorite room in the Accademia is the Nineteenth Century room. I could spend an afternoon there studying the various statues. 

According to the museum's guide, 

(c) 2018 Gena Philibert-Ortega

The large Nineteenth Century Room was conceived and realized in order to provide the collection of plaster casts by Lorenzo Bartolini with a stable and definitive location. However the intention was also to offer the visitor tangible evidence of the 19th century academic origins of this Gallery, today mainly known for Michelangelo's David.[1]

(c) 2018 Gena Philibert-Ortega

The room is filled with statues and busts. These works were commissioned by wealthy Italian and foreign visitors living in Florence. But there's important context in those works. It provides us a snapshot of life. It reminds me of how we use various publications to date fashion in photographs thus "dating" a photograph to a specific decade.

Monument to Maria Radziwill Krasinski and her son Zygmunt.(c) 2018 Gena Philibert-Ortega

Most statues and busts reveal the 19th century aesthetic taste from head to toe, showing the typical hairstyle and fashion of the period. The decision to follow a specific style reveals the sensitivity and the prevalent ideology at the historical moment it reflects. In the first half of the 19th century fashion trends were set in France, featuring modest volume of hairstyle, and simple vertical lines which defined women’s tunics and gowns during the neoclassical and Empire period, faithfully depicted by Lorenzo Bartolini during his long brilliant career. [2]

These statues seemingly have no genealogical value but in reality, they provide important context regarding fashion and hairstyles of the early 19th century. Yes, I understand these were documenting the rich but it still provides context that we can use in our overall understanding.

There's a genealogical benefit to just visiting museums for the sake of visiting and learning. Not everything has to be a research trip. Genealogy and social history is everywhere.

[1]Falletti, Franca. Accademia Gallery. The Official Guide. Italy: Giunti, 2015.

[2] "Gipsoteca Bartolini, a 19th Century Hall," ( accessed 28 March 2021).  

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